Can a Consulting Company Be a Team? We Are.
At The Gnar we enjoy challenging the common misconceptions around tech consulting. Is it long hours? Is it really competitive? Is every developer on an island? Do I have to wear a collared shirt? The answer is unequivocally: not at The Gnar. Our founders Nick and Mike had a vision for a company that couples the gratifying aspects of a product company - a supportive team, a culture of learning, a focus on quality - with the vibrancy and novelty of an ever-evolving client list. Having worked in various consulting environments, I can say without hesitation (though with a modicum of bias) that they have succeeded in realizing that vision.
What follows is the first installment of a series on exploding consulting myths at The Gnar. This episode addresses the elusive and oh-so important aspect of a great job: company culture.
Is it possible to have a strong and inclusive culture at a company where everyone works for someone else? Definitely. We just have to make it a priority. Company culture doesn’t just happen, it is nurtured. By hiring great people and giving those people agency, The Gnar evolves culturally as the team steers it.
At The Gnar we care about our company the way a product company cares about theirs. We view The Gnar as the product. We are proud of our work, we are confident in our skills, and most importantly we root for each other. The camaraderie is real. So how do we build that camaraderie, especially in a remote work environment? We stay connected.
Every morning includes a company-wide standup. It’s not long, but it’s a great way to see each other’s faces, swap a quick story, or just listen in with our coffee. We discuss what we’re excited about, what we need help with, or just how we are feeling that day. It’s not uncommon for a team member’s contribution at standup to simply be, “Good morning everyone, pass.” I know I get a boost just being able to say hi to these folks every day.
Each week we hold a company retrospective. The company buys lunch for the team, we go over the latest company news, business and design updates, and then we talk about the previous week. Not only are these retros a nice hour to spend together, they give us a forum for talking about the company itself, what we’ve enjoyed, where we might change course, what ideas we have, who we want to recognize. The transparency of The Gnar’s inner workings is one of the linchpins of our culture.
It’s a virtuous cycle. Results of our retros include bi-weekly coffee hour, bi-weekly happy hour, Show the Codez! (more on that in a future installment), this blog, client simulation exercises, and guest speakers. We internally promote our own culture by creating opportunities to build upon it. And these initiatives come from the whole team, not just from our founders. The newest team members often have some of the most valuable perspectives. Very recently we interviewed a candidate, and two weeks later - after we had hired them - they were contributing valuable insights in meetings about our interview process. Mike and Nick understand that what makes a company special isn’t just what can be accomplished by the team, it is the team itself.
And as nice as it has been to work in a bathrobe for the last two years, there is nothing like getting out and seeing teammates face-to-face. Our Boston area team recently spent a day working together downtown and enjoying a night out. Our New York team just did the same in Brooklyn. We plan to make a habit of it. We have folks all over: Chicago, Philly, Rhode Island, Maine, Virginia Beach, Austin, Charlotte, Washington, Florida. I look forward to the day when we have meetups in regions across the country.
On paper these practices aren't unique (though I would argue they are less common in the consulting space). Separation happens at the execution level. Any organization can have standups and retros. The spirit of those ceremonies is what sets a company apart. At The Gnar we have a saying: we take our work seriously but we don't take ourselves seriously. We get down to business when it comes to software, but there's also plenty of weird and fun over here. Our unofficial mascot is a half cat, half Fred Durst wearing jorts. Scratch tickets make frequent appearances. We've started issuing custom-etched launch tokens for major milestones, largely because Heather likes playing with her 3D printer. We have a fairly bizarre clapping ritual that has developed in our morning meetings. We're as likely to discuss ice fishing or cats on Slack as we are Typescript nuances or OO patterns. We do challenging work all day; we figure we should enjoy ourselves as well.
Culture is like craft: if the team cares about it, improves upon it, and believes in it, it will deepen. Our company is truly crafted by the people who work here. I’m as proud of our roster as I am of our client list. Give us a call, send us a resume. We'd love to prove it to you.
How does a strong company culture affect daily work life at The Gnar? In our next installment we challenge another myth of tech consulting: that it's a competitive, tense, sink-or-swim environment. Spoiler alert: we want you to swim, and we'll help you do it.